Prisons – ''considerable progress'' but still serious concerns
31 July 2012
The Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick was encouraged and concerned by what he saw in recent inspections of facilities. Here are some of his findings
HMP Elmley on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent
HMP Elmley was a well-run prison, though it needed more work, training and education to occupy its prisoners. The prison holds mainly adult but also some young adult prisoners. The prison is now holding 300 more prisoners than its normal capacity.
Inspectors were pleased to find that:
• the prison was reasonably safe, with lower levels of violence than at comparable prisons and a good understanding of prisoners' safety concerns;
• incidences of self-harm were lower than in many local prisons and those in crisis received good levels of care;
• use of force had fallen significantly;
• the prison had very good interventions to address drug and alcohol issues and illicit drug use was not excessive;
• staff-prisoner relationships were generally good and some good work was done by staff and prisoners to support vulnerable prisoners through the 'Trust Programme', a locally developed initiative; and
• offender management for higher risk prisoners was reasonable, and the provision of resettlement services was good.
However, inspectors were concerned to find that:
• not all night staff had the confidence to deal with emergency situations where a prisoner had self-harmed and not all carried anti-ligature knives;
• some environmental standards, particularly on the wings, were disappointing, despite it being a relatively modern prison;
• the quality of some learning and skills provision was reasonable but there was insufficient activity for about 400 prisoners;
• poor promotion of activity and low attendance left some places unfilled;
• there was underemployment with, for example, far too many people doing notional and low-skilled cleaning jobs;
• during the working day, about a third of Elmley's prisoners were locked up doing nothing.
Nick Hardwick said: "Overall this should be seen as an encouraging report. Elmley is a large frontline establishment that deals with significant operational challenges and risk. Issues such as cleanliness and the environment required attention, and it was unacceptable that so many prisoners were under-occupied. However, we found a prison that continues to be well run, safe and respectful, with a good resettlement focus." HMP Spring Hill men's open jail in Buckinghamshire
HMP Spring Hill remained a safe and well-run prison with an impressively purposeful regime and a proper focus on resettlement. But the accommodation remained poor.
Inspectors were pleased to find that:
• there was very little bullying and very few instances of self-harm
• reception had improved and refurbishment had provided rooms where prisoners could be interviewed in private
• security was proportionate and drug use was commendably low
• staff-prisoner relationships were generally good, despite a weak personal officer scheme
• the provision of health care had improved overall
• there were very good educational and work opportunities, and partnerships with community organisations and local authorities had generated impressive training opportunities
•resettlement provision was generally good with positive outcomes while offender management and public protection was very good.
However, inspectors were concerned that:
• despite some refurbishment, most prisoner accommodation remained in poor condition and had deteriorated in some areas
• although diversity work had improved, there remained significant gaps in planning care for prisoners with disabilities and older prisoners.
Hardwick said: "The prison has made considerable progress in many important areas. Spring Hill shows clearly the benefit that positive personal relationships can have along with an integrated working day that reflects life beyond prison. We have identified some areas that still require work but we acknowledge the improvements made by the establishment."HMP Ranby training jail in Nottinghamshire
This prison holds around 1,000 men on a large, sprawling site which makes it difficult to manage. Inspectors found that the prison had some excellent features but performance was undermined by some significant weaknesses, some of which were outside its direct control.
Inspectors were pleased that:
• there were sufficient activity places for all its population and the prison offered a realistic working environment to most;
• prisoners were positive about the opportunities to engage in a full working week which included night and shift working;
• the quality of some of the vocational training was excellent and a high proportion of prisoners progressed to employment or training on release;
• resettlement had improved and was generally good, with few prisoners leaving the prison without somewhere to stay and good support to help them find a job or training; and
• relationships between staff and prisoners were generally good and diversity issues were generally well managed.
But there were concerns because:
• at any one time, 300 of the 936 activity places were not used and a quarter of prisoners were locked in their cells during the working day;
• long-term funding for the debt and financial advice service had been withdrawn and its future was uncertain;
• too many small single cells had been doubled up and had unscreened toilets;
• although most prisoners said they felt safe, some prisoners reported being victimised, which was often linked to gang and debt issues;
• there were generally insufficient efforts to reduce the levels of violence and, while levels of self-harm were low, they were increasing and the prison had not explored why; and
• there were high levels of drug and alcohol availability, and many opportunities for diversion and theft of prescribed drugs due in part to poor prescribing practices.
Inspectors were also concerned that other aspects of health care, commissioned by NHS South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw, were very poor. There was no out of hours service and unqualified prison staff had to judge whether a prisoner who complained of being unwell at night should be taken to hospital or told to wait until the next morning – this seriously compromised prisoner safety. There were a high number of missed appointments but long waiting lists for an appointment. At the heart of these issues were poor partnership arrangements and the partnership board, which should have provided a forum for sorting them out, had not met for more than six months.
On a subsequent visit, inspectors found that good progress had been made but more was needed.
Hardwick said: "HMP Ranby could be outstanding and has some features comparable prisons would envy. Most prisoners have good quality work and training opportunities, together with effective resettlement help, provided in a safe and decent environment. However, for a minority there is an undercurrent of victimisation, frustration sorting out some of the practical necessities of prison life and a lack of encouragement to take advantage of the work and training opportunities available. The big site and thin staffing levels make it difficult to get on top of alcohol availability."
He added: "The most serious problem facing the prison at the time of the inspection was poor health care provision. It should not have taken an inspection to get these issues resolved. Nevertheless, I am pleased by the way the prison and NHS South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw have responded to our concerns and that the inspectors I asked to return to the prison found health care had improved."HMP/young offenders institution Stoke Heath in Shropshire
''Much improved" was the conclusion from an unannounced inspection of this training prison.
Stoke Heath has long-established experience of holding and managing young offenders. Over recent years it has undergone dramatic change with the loss of its juvenile population in April 2011, replaced immediately by adult prisoners. The prison now holds a mixed population of young adults and category C adult prisoners. Earlier inspections led to criticisms of a prison that was not performing well.
This time around, inspectors found that:
• most prisoners felt safe when they arrived and the number of violent incidents had reduced;
• the atmosphere was calm around the prison and the quality of supervision was generally good;
• some effective self-harm prevention measures were in place;
• the use of force was reducing and scrutiny and governance was impressively thorough;
• the quality of relationships between staff and prisoners was good; and
• resettlement work was much improved, although the effective analysis of need was still catching up with the changes in the population.
On the downside, inspectors were concerned that:
• at least a quarter of the population were locked in their cells during the day;
• there was a shortfall of 130 activity places, despite the establishment's status as a training prison;
• allocation to activity was poor and many courses had long waiting lists; and
• there was insufficient vocational training, although the quality of what was on offer was generally good.
Hardwick commented: "This is an encouraging report. The changes imposed on the prison were quite sudden and the requirement to respond urgent. Stoke Heath has made clear progress and outcomes for prisoners were generally much better than when we last inspected. The recent changes had not diverted the prison from getting to grips with its problems. It is arguable that the new population will be easier to manage and this may bring further opportunities, but it is also the case that the prison was now properly focused and well managed, and had applied new systems and initiatives with energy, application and thoroughness."